Maybe you’re wondering, “What do they mean, ‘unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood’?”
Or maybe you’re wondering if this site can help you to understand your boyfriend, partner, family member, or friend?
If so, you might want to start here…
It’s Not About Definitions and Label
How people define their own experiences, and the labels they give to them (or don’t), are very important.
We’re not interested in imposing labels, or even providing definitions. For our purposes, that’s not necessary or helpful.
Imposing labels or coming up with clear definitions probably won’t be helpful for your purposes either – especially if your goals include understanding his experience and giving him support.
Instead, we’re offering tools for thinking about childhood or teenage sexual experiences that may have caused or contributed to a man’s current problems.
But We Can’t Escape Words
Of course, we had to choose some words. We settled on “unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood.”
This is how we refer, on this site, to childhood and adolescent sexual experiences that can cause a variety of problems, well into adulthood.
Our words are carefully chosen, because we strive to:
- Respect every man’s experience and point of view.
- Avoid any labels that could drive away any man who might use this site to sort through his own unique experiences and options.
- Avoid leading astray any person trying to understand or help a man dealing with these issues.
We also want to emphasize what “unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood” does not mean…
By “unwanted” we do not mean that the experience had to be unwanted when it happened. For example, a boy may feel that he wants sexual contact with an adult (especially if the adult has manipulated him). Instead, when we say “unwanted,” we mean:
- Looking back now, is that an experience he wanted to have happened, to be part of his life?
- Does he want to be having negative thoughts and feelings and behaviors that, looking back now, he suspects or believes are (at least partly) caused by that experience?
The “or” in “unwanted or abusive” does not imply that any unwanted sexual experience was also “abusive.” We don’t believe this is true. We’re just hoping that “unwanted” works well enough when it comes to describing childhood or teenage sexual experiences that may have contributed to problems you have now. (Or at least isn’t bad enough to drive you away.)
We encourage you, too, to be very careful and thoughtful about finding the right words to use when you’re talking with the man you care about. Use words that help him feel comfortable and in control of how his experience is defined, words that don’t lead him to feel pushed to accept labels or definitions, etc. Whenever possible, take your lead from him and the language he uses.
Sorting It Out For Himself
For some of you, that’s why you’re here right now. You’re trying to understand, and maybe to help a man you care about to understand:
- What was that childhood (or adolescent) sexual experience really about?
- What effects has that experience had on him?
- Is that a reason why he’s struggling with _________?
The question, “What was that sexual experience really about?” may be the most fundamental, and could take a while for him to sort out. That’s because it implies other questions, like:
- Was the other person in a position of power or authority over him?
- Was he manipulated into doing sexual things, or into believing he wanted to, even when he really didn’t?
- Did sexual activity change what had been a positive relationship into one that involved secrecy and shame?
- Was the other person using him and not really considering his experience or his needs?
- Did the other person take advantage of vulnerabilities he had at the time – feeling isolated and lonely, feeling excited and curious but ignorant about sex?
These questions speak to possible exploitation, betrayal, and disregard for his well-being – experiences that can cause a variety of problems in life, including in close relationships, right away and in adulthood.
Also, these questions apply to experiences with other children or teenagers, not just adults. No matter how old the other person was, if dominance, manipulation, exploitation, betrayal or disregard for his well-being were involved, the expereince(s) may have contributed to problems in his life now.
Important: The idea here is not to push anyone to condemn or even to label the other person or people involved, who may also have been good to him, and who he may still like, even love. Also, such experiences may have involved attention, affection and physical sensations that, at the time, he found pleasurable and in some way wanted (e.g., in a confused way mixed up with shame).
The point of asking himself these questions, if he choose to do so, is to understand whether – and if so, why and how – the sexual experience(s) may have helped to cause some problems he has now (like shame, anger, addiction, or depression).
Your Needs Matter Too
We’re providing resources for sorting out what makes sense to you, as well as the man you care about, and for sorting out the options for dealing with your unique experiences and moving closer to the life (and relationship) you want.
For some of you, his problems – and their effects on you – may have reached a point where something major has to change.
Because every man needs to sort these things out on his own terms, in his own time, pushing him to go at the pace you want is not going to be helpful.
Still, you may need to let him know (without threats or ultimatums) that, while you respect his needs and pace, you have needs too, and you may have your own timeline for sorting things out and making decisions about your relationship with him.
All of these issues are addressed at Finding Help.
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We offer several resources, including guidance about how to select an appropriate therapist or consultant, in Get Help and through the Online SupportLine, which we hope will be useful to you in finding effective treatment, getting personalized recommendations for services or to discuss personal issues.
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